In my last newsletter, I wrote about how nurturing gratitude in challenging times can lead to an inner condition of grace. As we experience the ups and downs of everyday life, we have two tools at our disposal to transform our practice of gratitude into a state of grace. First we have knowledge which provides the vision and understanding of how grace reveals its presence in our life. We also have direct experience that offers us validation that grace is manifest in daily living. Knowledge and experience guide us on the path of transformation.
On a recent trip to Arizona, I literally stumbled and fell off the path of gratitude. We’d been driving for three days from Wisconsin. We were meeting up with our friends from Colorado, Robert and Joyce, and some friends of theirs from Minnesota, Sue and Paul, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My husband, Michael, and I arrived at the hotel first, so we took a leisurely stroll into the Old Town area just beyond our hotel. When Joyce and Robert arrived, it was Happy Hour at the hotel bar. We decided to have a glass of wine as we awaited the arrival of Sue and Paul, and dinner at a Mexican restaurant just a few blocks away. Joyce and I sipped our Sauvignon Blanc slowly, mainly because it was barely palatable. On the other hand, Michael’s Manhattan went down easy and he ordered another one. Sue and Paul soon appeared and declined to drink, preferring to eat after their long day on the road.
We all finished our drinks. The other two couples decided to drive to the cantina, but Michael suggested walking. He still hadn’t got his 10,000 steps in on his Fitbit and after sitting in a car much of the day, I readily agreed. The lovely warm weather offered a reprieve from the winter cold of Wisconsin, so we began our second walk to Old Town. As we neared the restaurant, I scanned the building looking for the entrance. No door was visible on the street we were on. As we turned the corner, I spotted the huge carved wooden doors. I was admiring the authentic look of Mexico, when something hit me from behind.
I did a face plant on the sidewalk and heard a sickening crack. A sharp pain shot through my chin and jaw. Sprawled face down on the sidewalk, I lay there for a moment trying to assess whether my chin was in a new location next to my nose. I soon learned Michael knocked me over when his bad ankle gave out. He helped me up and I could feel my scraped chin start to swell.
“I can’t eat,” I cried. “It hurts too much. We have the let our friends know to go ahead and order.”
When I entered the cantina, my first thought was to go to the ladies’ room and run some cold water on a paper towel and clean up but the hostess informed us the rest room was closed for cleaning. We soon found our friends. The expressions on their faces said I looked as bad as I felt. Luckily, Sue was a nurse. She had me open my mouth to check for bleeding inside and made me move my jaw to make sure it wasn’t dislocated.
I cried all the way back to the hotel. I confess I was mad that Michael had drank two Manhattans and tripped. I’m ashamed to admit wasn’t very forgiving at that moment, although later I realized he hurt his knee, too, and deserved some sympathy. I should have been grateful that my injuries weren’t worse. The knowledge tool wasn’t working. The fall from grace was complete.
Maya Angelou once said to say thank you when bad things happen, because God has put a rainbow in every dark cloud. Say “thank you’ because the rainbow is already there. The light of your rainbow can transform any experience for you, if you will only realize it and open yourself to the light. Seemingly random events are not random. They happen for a reason.
I held an ice pack to my throbbing face all night. Michael got the ice for me, brought me chocolate milk, took care of me as I lay crying. The hotel had a delicious soup which I was able to eat. But I couldn’t find my rainbow, because I was ignoring all these validating experiences.
The next day we drove to Phoenix. No icepack in the car. When we arrived at our rental, I saw my face for the first time that day in the mirror. I looked like I took an uppercut to the jaw from Mohammed Ali. The second day looked even worse. I struggled to say thank you to God when my face and neck were filled with dark bruises.
After a week in the sunshine, my attitude improved. We met more new friends in addition to Paul and Sue, and one of them. Ann, was also working on gratitude and mindfulness. I met my lifelong friend from high school for lunch to celebrate her birthday. None of them ran away screaming when they saw my face. It was then I became aware of the knowledge that I shouldn’t have to struggle to find grace. I tried to open myself to the experience and let the light in. Let my rainbow shine. The bruises healed, my jaw worked well enough to talk for hours and eat lamb kabobs with tzatziki sauce and Ann’s spiced nuts. The dark cloud lifted.
One afternoon, when everyone else was napping, I sat in the patio on a comfy loveseat in the spring light and read a new mystery. An ice storm had hit Wisconsin that day but I was fortunate to be sitting outside reading instead of watching ice pellets coat the barren trees in our yard. Gratitude swiftly reappeared. It wasn’t enough just to see the rainbow. Now I was ready to be the rainbow in someone else’s life. The return of grace was lighting my path like a flashlight in a dark forest. I knew the next step to take.
I waited inside for Michael to wake up.